Genre: RPG Developer: Sega Ent. Publisher: Sega Ent. Players: 1 Released: 1988
One of my fondest gaming memories was seeing the Turbo-Grafx-16 CD for the first time. An older gentleman named Angelo the next town over reportedly had one, along with import games of all kinds. My circle of friends spent days investigating if it were true, who he was, and if he would sell or trade anything. We finally found out what we needed to know and literally showed up on his doorstep one evening, with only a vague referral and a backpack of games for trade. Angelo was in his late ‘40s, but he was a real gamer and welcomed us into his home. The man had his consoles connected to his PC monitor, my first experience with that visual nirvana, and he had TONS of import games for all consoles. The star attraction for the evening was his Turbo-Grafx CD, and the first game he showed us was Ys: Book 1 & 2.
The three of us stood silently as we watched the opening. Angelo turned down the lights and pumped up the volume of his desktop speakers, obviously knowing what a show-stopper he had for us. We were in awe of the game’s brilliant music and animation, and everyone in that room vowed to one day own NEC’s wonder console. As he began a new playthrough of Ys Book 1, I fell in love with the story and characters. The combat was simple and crude, but there was a wonderful sense of exploration and adventure, and I ached to play it someday. Considering that I was woefully short of the $400+ it cost for the whole setup and game, I had to sorrowfully put Ys on my “wanted” list.
My world got significantly brighter a few weeks later on a trip to the video store. Only two stores in my entire town rented Master System games, and as I perused the section for something to play, I was astonished to find Ys Vanished Omens. Not only was there a version on my beloved Sega system, but it had preceded the CD-ROM game by a year. Obviously, I knew that it was not going to be the multimedia spectacle I saw on the Turbo-Grafx CD, but from what I could tell from reading the back of the box, it seemed to be pretty much all there.
Of course, it wasn’t. Along with all the cut scenes and dialogue, the entire second game was missing. That was understandable for an 8-bit cartridge game, but I was a bit disappointed. What was there was the first Ys adventure, and it looked great on the Master System, even if Sega mistranslated the title on the box as “Y’s.” The graphics were bright and colorful, and everything looked close enough to the CD-ROM version to make me happy. The basic adventure was still intact, and the adventurer Adol Christin (called “Aron Christian” here for some reason) was still looking for the six books of Ys so that he could save the land from the evil of Dark Dekt (also changed from “Dark Fact”).
Vanished Omens played very much like a standard action/RPG, but it’s combat was a bit… odd. Instead of whacking enemies with a sword or other weapon, Aron had to physically run into them to cause damage. As weird as that seems, it still wasn’t as simple as merely bumping into everything that moves. Foes had to be hit from an angle or Aron takes damage. It took a bit to learn the intricacies of attacking each enemy, but the game balanced this by allowing players to heal by standing still (outside of dungeons) and by thankfully providing them ability to save anywhere. Vanished Omens had five save slots, and I urge players trying the game today to make use of them! Enemies respawned when Aron leaves an area, so it was easy to grind for experience until the bosses became easy enough to handle.
Throughout his journey, Aron found new items to help in his quest, including upgrades to his sword, armor, and shield. Some were found in the different locations he explored, and others could be purchased from merchants. Aron’s rings were also invaluable. They could slow the enemies’ movements, boost Aron’s armor and increase his attack power. A few items though, like the hammer, weren’t so obvious in function. I remember calling Sega’s tip line to figure out what to do in one section of the Tower of the Doomed that drained my energy mercilessly, only to find out that the hammer was needed to pass through safely.
Ys, on the plethora of computers and consoles it has seen release, was a bit different than most other RPGs in the way that it divided up its objectives. Instead of a single dungeon for each book, the first three were scattered while the remaining three are found in the aforementioned Tower of the Doomed, a 25-floor dungeon that required a lot of backtracking and strategizing to complete. There wasn’t any real distinction between its levels, an apparently deliberate design choice that made the dungeon a menacing prologue to an epic final boss battle.
Though it lacked the CD-ROM muscle in its presentation, the Master System port of Vanished Omens did conserve its wonderful music compositions. They were done by Yuzo Koshiro and Meiko Ishikawa, and they managed to retain the charm and quality of their classic Ys themes. It did irk me to discover that the western versions lacked FM sound support, but after hearing them, there are some themes that sound better to me without it. Anyone who has played the CD-ROM game will undoubtedly recognize all the themes, as they’re done quite well. That’s a testament both to the quality of the compositions and Koshiro and Ishikawa’s work. Knowing that Ys came out first on the Master System first made me appreciate their work all that much more. I really think that the CD-ROM soundtrack was their true vision, finally free from the shackles of the cartridge format.
I wouldn’t hesitate to put Vanished Omens on the same level of quality as other Master System RPG classics like Phantasy Star and Golvellius; it’s that good. The adventure is short but challenging, the bosses are menacing, and there are a ton of locations to explore and items to use. It might not be the best version of Ys but it’s a damn fine one and a game every Master System owner should play.
SCORE: 9 out of 10